Posted on October 2, 2017, by Travis Pulver
A curious thing is happening this season in the NFL. The best team in the land, the New England Patriots, is not playing like the best team in the land anymore. They didn’t lose their second game of the season until Week Ten last year. There have been some roster changes and a couple of injuries, but not enough to explain their quality of play so far.
But they will get a chance to quiet the critics for about a week if they can pull off a win in Tampa Bay against a talented Buccaneers team on Thursday Night Football. The question on the minds of fans everywhere is whether they can.
New England’s offense is still a juggernaut. As usual, the offense has not been an issue for the Patriots. They lead the league in total offense, in passing yards, and they are second in points per game. Losing Julian Edelman stung, but the Patriots had no shortage of players ready to step up in his place.
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Brandin Cooks appears to be fitting in quite well. Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola have stepped up their games. James White has been a good tool coming out of the backfield. Rob Gronkowski—well, he’s Gronk (which means he’s awesome and still one of the best tight ends in the NFL).
Tampa Bay is far from perfect, but the Buccaneers do have a good, all-around game. Jameis Winston continues to evolve and remains one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL. He is surrounded by talented weapons in the passing game in Mike Evan, Cameron Brate, Adam Humphries, and O.J. Howard.
He hasn’t quite gotten on the same page with DeSean Jackson yet, but when he does, the Bucs passing game will become even tougher.
The ‘X’ factor the Patriots will have trouble planning for is the return of running back Doug Martin. He’ll be fresh and should be excited to take the field after being suspended for the team’s first three games. But he will not be in game shape, so the Bucs may not use him too much just yet.
Somehow the New England defense has gone from being one of the best in the NFL to the absolute worst. Last year, they allowed the fewest points per game in the NFL. This year, through the first four weeks of the season only the Indianapolis Colts allow more points per game than they do.
The Patriots defense can’t focus on stopping the Tampa Bay passing game or running game. They happen to be the worst in the league at stopping either (and consequently the worst in overall yards allowed as well).
For some reason, the Patriots secondary seems to have trouble communicating making it almost easy for opposing quarterbacks to take advantage of them. While this should play into the hands of the Buccaneers, it could create problems for Jameis Winston.
If he doesn’t stay sharp and focused, it could be too easy for him to fall into old habits and start making mistakes. He only has three interceptions to his name this year, but all it takes is one bad game for that number to skyrocket. The last thing he needs to do is get too star struck over playing against Tom Brady.
“Getting a chance to witness greatness in front of us, Tom Brady coming into town, that gets you pumped up, definitely,” Winston said (ESPN). “I’m thinking, what am I going to say to him when I see him and meet him?'”
The deciding factor in this game will be the defenses of both teams. Tampa Bay is going to have to slow down the New England juggernaut somehow. The Bucs have some good personnel on defense, but the Patriots offense eats ‘good personnel’ for breakfast.
New England’s defense is going to need to cause a few turnovers. The personnel they have are capable. The problem is just whether they can get their heads out of their behinds and play like fans know they can.
Oddsmakers are picking the Patriots by 5.5 points. It is to jump on the ‘The Patriots have fallen’ bandwagon. But it is hard to imagine Winston playing well enough for the entire game. So….expect the Patriots to win but for the Buccaneers to cover the spread.